Agent & Editor Insights
By Cindy Hudson
Tracey Ryder didn’t intend to start a national phenomenon when she created Edible Ojai magazine with business partner Carol Topalian. She just wanted to produce a magazine about something she cared about: locally grown foods and the farmers who produce them. But shortly after their publication debuted, the women were swamped with calls from people around the country wanting to print a similar publication in their own areas. To meet the demand, they created Edible Communities to license other magazines with a similar format in communities nationwide. That was in 2004. Three years and five million readers later, the company will welcome its 25th Edible magazine into the fold, and there’s still a long list of communities in the queue.
I recently talked with Tracey about the commonalities and differences among these publications as well as the various opportunities for freelance writers.
Is there a common goal for Edible magazines?
Yes. We are striving to connect consumers with people in their communities who grow and produce local foods. We want to have a consistent brand in place, but we also let the local publishers have as much creative freedom as possible so the magazines don’t feel homogenized or like “cookie-cutter” publications.
Are most freelance contributors local to each magazine’s publishing area?
Most of the time editors work with local freelancers who know local stories. But there are opportunities for all different levels of writers. Beginning writers can get bylines and very seasoned, experienced natural food writers who happen to live in the community also contribute. In Santa Fe for example, Deborah Madison, a well-known food writer, is a contributor. And college students who are trying to get their feet wet as food writers are also featured. It’s a nice collection of different perspectives.
If a writer has an idea for a story that would work for more than one community, whom should she approach?
Writers can approach us at the headquarters level, and we always encourage them to contact the local editors as well. A lot of times we get story ideas that are specific to a region, for instance California or the Northeast, where we have clusters of magazines. So we forward those to the local publishers who decide as a group if they want to run the article(s) as regional piece(s). We’re usually able to pay a slightly higher fee to a writer who’s going to run something in multiple publications.
Are there opportunities for stories to run nationally?
We have one national column now called Edible Nation that’s in all the Edibles. People like Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan and Michael Ableman have contributed to that so far, and we’re very open to ideas for that column. Our Web site is also going through a major renovation, and it’s going to change a lot. There will be much more content that we’re creating specifically for the Web to keep that fresh and different from our printed publications. It will be a separate channel that we’ll probably begin using writers for in April or May.
What should writers know before pitching an Edible magazine on a story idea?
Obviously, they need to be knowledgeable about local foods. We say our publications are narrow and deep. Our subject matter is quite narrow, because we focus on regional, local food items that are fresh and in season. And it’s deep because we want to know everything we can about those items. We also love the human-interest side of all our editorials. Let’s say the story is about a winemaker or a cheese maker or a farmer. We really want to know who that person is or who their family is or what their motivation is for doing what they’re doing.
What do you like to see in a query?
Creative thinking is well rewarded. As much as we’ve done in this field, we definitely don’t know it all. And because we want to be narrow and deep and really get to know the communities we’re in, there’s so much information we can never find out ourselves. Writers who dig up ideas are our lifelines to what’s happening, and we really want to hear from them.
What’s the best way to query you?
E-mail works best because we’re so spread out. I traveled about 150,000 miles last year, and I wasn’t in any one place for more than seven days.
Contact Tracey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Links to Web sites for all 25 Edible publications can be found at http://www.ediblecommunities.com/.
Cindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her Web site, www.motherdaughterbookclub.com, and its companion blog, www.motherdaughterbookclub.wordpress.com, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.